Why we need cruise berths

“George Town will be
Ghost Town if there is no berthing. The financial sector is relocating to
business parks on Elgin Avenue, Camana Bay, Governor’s Square and Safehaven and
that, in addition to shopping centres elsewhere, means that for residents and
on-island visitors to come in to George Town will be no longer mandatory.”
Robert Hamaty knows what he’s talking about; the entrepreneur and ex-airline
pilot has run businesses on Cayman for decades, serving both locals and
tourists.

Hamaty notes that
Cayman, along with Belize, is the only port on the Western Caribbean itinerary
that is still tendering cruise ships.

The biggest threat to
Cayman’s cruise economy is the sheer size of the new ships being built. Oasis
of the Seas and its sister, Allure, are the most monstrous passenger boats ever
seen on the planet – including passengers and crew, each holds 8,000 people.
Oasis is already here, and it’s not coming to Cayman. It’s too big to tender
efficiently, so it moves on toward Labadee, Costa Maya, Cozumel. All ports with
berthing facilities, notes Brynley Davies of the Association for the
Advancement of Cruise Tourism.

“Cruise lines are
looking for destinations that will provide a good guest experience. I believe
their view is that it is impossible to provide this when you are exclusively
using tendering as a means of embarking and disembarking guests.”

The most damning fact
is there in black and white: Cayman will suffer a 26 per cent drop in cruise
calls in 2011. A large proportion of those lost calls is due to the larger
Oasis-class ships swallowing up the smaller ships’ itineraries.

Cline Glidden Jr said
that Royal Caribbean had told him that once Cayman was able to construct a
berthing facility, they would send their ships back to the island. The influx
of visitors will impact on retailers, restaurants, bars and entrepreneurs keen
to sample Cayman life for a few hours; the onus will then be on the tourism
industry, including the government, to attract them back as stay-over guests
for weeks – where they will spend considerably more money than the US$96.78 the
average cruise shipper does whilst here.

The current
government needs no convincing. McKeeva Bush said at a recent cruise luncheon
to update the tourism industry on the infrastructure project that a berthing
facility was a critical necessity.

“The development of
the cruise berthing facility will not only ensure that the mega ships will
include the Cayman Islands as a port of call, but it will provide a seamless
disembarkation experience for passengers; which in turn will improve their
overall view of the destination.

“This is the kind of
experiential difference that influences whether those visitors will choose to
return to the Cayman Islands as stay-over guests in the future.”

In other words, if Cayman wants to keep
cruisers coming onshore, it must toe the line and build the facilities which
the cruise lines expect and those which passengers increasingly demand.

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